ClearMotion Buys Bose’s Car Suspension Tech to Deliver Smooth Rides

Xconomy Boston — 

A Bose side project in the automotive industry will get new life in the hands of a new owner.

ClearMotion, a heavily funded MIT spinout working to commercialize technology aimed at making bumpy car rides go more smoothly, announced Wednesday it has acquired related technologies developed by Bose. The purchase price wasn’t disclosed.

Framingham, MA-based Bose—a much older MIT spinout—is known for selling speakers, headphones, and other audio technology. But in the 1980s it began quietly working on “active suspension” tech for vehicles—an effort code-named “Project Sound”—using a system of magnets, small motors, and software to quickly react to bumps and other obstacles, ideally keeping the vehicle cabin stable and the riding experience smooth. (Click here to see video of a demo posted last year by CNET.)

The suspension system ultimately proved too costly and heavy to integrate into vehicles on a large scale, CNET reported. Bose instead incorporated some of the technology in a special type of seat designed for truck drivers, which it sells through the Bose Ride business. More than 12,000 trucks have been equipped with Bose Ride technology, according to a company statement e-mailed to Xconomy.

“We’re very proud of the work our engineers have done in the area of suspension and motion-control technology,” says Bose Automotive Systems vice president Marc Mansell in a prepared statement. “We look forward to seeing ClearMotion continue the development of the technology and taking it to the next level.”

The question now, of course, is whether ClearMotion can overcome the hurdles Bose encountered and figure out how to commercialize the technologies more broadly. The Woburn, MA-based startup says it acquired Bose Ride, the Project Sound technology, and other “predictive road-sensing software” from Bose. ClearMotion chief technology officer Marco Giovanardi knows those technologies well—he previously worked as a top research engineer on Bose’s vehicle suspension project, according to his LinkedIn profile.

ClearMotion says it now holds over 300 patents related to active motion control of vehicles. It declined to say how many patents it held before the acquisition.

The company was founded in 2008 as Levant Power, and it initially aimed to bring to market a new type of shock absorber for vehicles that could convert the absorbed energy into electricity and help reduce a vehicle’s fuel consumption.

ClearMotion is now marketing itself as a developer of technology that improves the experience of riding in cars by enhancing vehicle handling. It accomplishes this through actuators controlled by software that can read and respond to road conditions instantaneously, telling the actuators to push and pull the wheels at a high speed to compensate for potholes and other obstacles, the company has said.

ClearMotion sees a big market for improving the riding experience, especially if self-driving vehicles become prevalent in the future. In February, investors (led by J.P. Morgan Asset Management) pumped $100 million into ClearMotion to advance that vision.

ClearMotion says it aims to deploy the Bose suspension technology across a wide range of vehicles.

“These technologies will be assimilated into our product portfolio at a time [when] the car business undergoes remarkable change,” says ClearMotion CEO and co-founder Shakeel Avadhany in a prepared statement. “We will offer innovative automakers the ability to adapt their cars, pick-ups, SUVs, and self-driving platforms to the rapidly changing needs of the customer as autonomous functionality recaptures lost time while in motion.”